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Yone Noguchi and Joaquin Miller: How curiously they would gaze on us today!

This latest Hot 100 List is mostly comprised of very brief quotes from poems in BAP 2015—now the most collectible volume in David Lehman’s “best” anthology series, due to its Yi-Fen Chou controversy.

The “molecular” display presents fragmentary glimpses of “hot,” and we must say it is an interesting way to see the poets—can we know them by a few of their poetry molecules?

We may be living, without knowing it, in the Age of the Fragment.  The best prose-poems often produce dull fragments. That’s the bad news. The good news is that fragments from dull prose-poems may intimate genius; if future ages can only read the fragments we produce today, some lucky poets, who wrote mediocre prose poems, may be hailed as geniuses. Since the lyric of unified metrical accomplishment is really not our strength today, the Fragment may be our era’s ticket to lasting fame.

Is it the goal of the fragment to be fragmentary?  Is it ever the goal of the poem to be fragmentary?  Are there different types of fragments?  Is there not a rush to completion by every poem itself that makes even a fragment seem complete, beyond even the knowledge of the poet?

Getting to know David Lehman on Facebook…he loves rhyme, especially the rollicking sort, and we believe those sorts of poems in BAP are his selections.  Lehman is also a ‘free-speech-er;’ he sanctions the racy; the BAP poems often strive to be popular in the attention-getting sense, which I suppose is admirable—or not.

The non-poem exceptions in the Scarriet list are recent remarks by the hot Alexie, Lehman, Perloff, and Mary Karr. We are proud to include the quotation from Perloff—who chose to break her silence on the “racist Avant-garde” controversy by addressing Scarriet—on Facebook!—as she admitted her book Unoriginal Genius and its final chapter on Goldsmith’s Traffic may have had a part in bringing on the racist label. Are we not interested in my discussion of Yoko Tawada in Unoriginal Genius, Perloff asked, because she’s Asian-German, rather than Asian-American? “What xenophobia!”

The question we asked Perloff was, “Is the non-creative nearly racist by default?” The question was not meant to put Perloff on the spot; it was as much about the current race-conscious atmosphere as it was about Perloff, or the avant-garde. Were an avant-garde poet to tweet “red wheel barrow beside the white chickens” enough times, just think what might happen. And speaking of Williams (and Pound) and their Imagiste schtick: Scarriet, in its five year assault on Avant-Garde Modernism as a reactionary clique of white men, should get some credit for opening up this whole discussion.

Scarriet has written of Yone Noguchi (1875-1947) in the context of Imagism ripping off haiku, the importance of the Japanese victory in the Russo-Japanese war, and Noguchi’s important contacts: Yeats, Hardy, Symons, and John Gould Fletcher—the Arkansas poet who, along with Ford Maddox Ford, was the connecting link between Pound’s circle and the equally reactionary and highly influential circle of New Critics—the group of men who brought us the Writing Program Era—and its “difficult” Modernist flavor.

Scarriet, which trailblazes often, found the secret to the Red Wheel Barrow poem: WC Williams had a brother, Edgar, who married the woman he loved, Charlotte (Bill married her sister). “So much depended on” this: and Ed can be found in “red,” Charlotte in “chickens” and “white” symbolizes the bride.

But here we go. Controversy and hot go together; let’s get to the hot list. No mention of awards this time. Enjoy the list—and the poetry.

1. Yi-Fen Chou –“Adam should’ve said no to Eve.”

2. Derrick Michael Hudson –“Am I supposed to say something, add a soundtrack and voiceover?”

3. Sherman Alexie –“I am no expert on Chinese names…I’d assumed the name was Chinese.”

4. David Lehman –“Isn’t giving offense, provoking discussion…part of the deal?”

5. Terrance Hayes –“Let us imagine the servant ordered down on all fours”

6. Marjorie Perloff — “Scarriet poses the question…I have so far refrained from answering this and related questions but perhaps it is time to remind Scarriet and its readership…”

7. Amy Gerstler –“…live on there forever if heaven’s bereft of smell?”

8. Jane Hirshfield — “A common cold, we say—common, though it is infinite”

9. Mary Karr — “[John Ashbery is] the most celebrated unclothed emperor…an invention of academic critics…the most poisonous influence in American poetry”

10. Mary Oliver — “June, July, August. Every day, we hear their laughter.”

11. Rowan Ricardo Phillips — “It does not not get you quite wrong.”

12. Lawrence Raab — “nothing truly seen until later.”

13. Patrick Phillips — “Touched by your goodness, I am like that grand piano we found one night”

14. Dan Chiasson — “The only god is the sun, our mind, master of all crickets and clocks.”

15. Willie Perdomo — I go up in smoke and come down in a nod”

16. Katha Pollitt — “Truth had no past. It was wordless as water, a fall of shadow on stone.”

17. Tim Seibles — “That instant when eyes meet and slide away—even love blinks, looks off like a stranger”

18. Marilyn Hacker — “You happened to me.”

19. Charles Simic — “I could have run into the street naked, confident anyone I met would understand”

20. Louise Glück — “…the night so eager to accommodate strange perceptions.”

21. Laura Kasischke — “but this time I was beside you. …I was there.”

22. Michael Tyrell — “how much beauty comes from never saying no?”

23. Susan Terris — “cut corners    fit in     marry someone”

24. Cody Walker — “Holly round the house for a Muhammad Ali roundhouse.”

25. A.E. Stallings — “the woes were words,     and the only thing left was quiet.”

26. Valerie Macon — “coats fat over lean with a bright brush”

27. Jennifer Keith — “…bound to break: One the fiction, one the soul, the fact.”

28. Ed Skoog — “Its characters are historians at the Eisenhower Library.”

29. Terence Winch — “I’m in the emergency room at Holy Cross hoping all is not lost.”

30. Chana Bloch — “the potter may have broken the cup just so he could mend it.”

31. Natalie Diaz — “Today my brother brought over a piece of the ark”

32. LaWanda Walters — “And we—we white girls—knew nothing.”

33. Raphael Rubinstein — “Every poet thinks about every line being read by someone else”

34. R.S. Gwynn — “How it shows, shows, shows. (How it shows!)”

35. Robin Coste Lewis — “how civic the slick to satisfied from man.”

36. Andrew Kozma — “What lies we tell. I love the living, and you, the dead.”

37. Melissa Barrett — “—lines from Craiglist personal ads

38. Mark Bibbins — “He’s Serbian or something, whole family wiped out”

39. Chen Chen — “i pledge allegiance to the already fallen snow”

40. Patricia Lockwood — “How will Over Niagara Falls in a Barrel marry Across…on a Tightrope?”

41. Ron Padgett — “Old feller, young feller, who cares?”

42. Bethany Schultz Hurst — “Then things got confusing for superheroes.”

43. Natalie Scenters-Zapico — “…apartments that feel like they are by the sea, but out the window there is only freeway.”

44. Sandra Simonds — “Her little girl threw fake bills into the air.”

45. Donna Masini — “Even sex is no exit.  Ah, you exist.”

46. Dora Malech — “paper mane fluttering in the breeze of a near miss, belly ballasted with…kisses”

47. David Kirby — “Pets are silly, but the only world worth living in is one that doesn’t think so.”

48. Ross Gay —  “One never knows does one how one comes to be”

49. Meredith Hasemann — “The female cuckoo bird does not settle down with a mate. Now we make her come out of a clock.”

50. Madelyn Garner — “working her garden…which is happiness—even as petal and pistil we fall.”

51. Wendy Videlock — “like a lagoon, like a canoe, like you”

52. Erica Dawson — “I knocked out Sleeping Beauty, fucking cocked her on the jaw.”

53. Hailey Leithauser — “Eager spills eel-skin, python, seal-leather, platinum and plate, all cabbage, all cheddar.”

54. Monica Youn –“the dead-eyed Christ in Pietro’s Resurrection will march right over the sleeping soldiers”

55. Tanya Olson — “Assless Pants Prince High-Heels Boots Prince Purple Rain Prince”

56. Jericho Brown — “But nobody named Security ever believes me.”

57. Danielle DeTiberus — “In a black tank top, I can watch him talk about beams, joists…for hours”

58. Rebecca Hazelton — “My husband bearded, my husband shaved, the way my husband taps out the razor”

59. Dana Levin — “I watched them right after I shot them: thirty seconds of smashed sea while the real sea thrashed and heaved—”

60. Evie Shockley — “fern wept, let her eyes wet her tresses, her cheeks, her feet. the cheerlessness rendered her blessed”

61. Alan Michael Parker — “Rabbi, try the candied mint: it’s heaven.”

62. Aimee Nezhukumatahil — “I wonder if scientists could classify us a binary star—”

63. D. Nurske — “Neils Bohr recites in his soft rapt voice: I divide myself into two persons”

64. Afaa Michael Weaver — “inside oneness that appears when the prison frees me to know I am not it and it is not me.”

65. Marilyn Chin — “She was neither black nor white, neither cherished nor vanquished, just another squatter in her own bamboo grove”

66. Candace G. Wiley — ” My dear black Barbie, maybe you needed a grandma to tell you things are better than they used to be.”

67. Joanna Valente — “Sometimes, at night, I wish for someone to break into me—”

68. Jeet Thayil — “There are no accidents.  There is only God.”

69. Kate Tempest — “It gets into your bones.”

70. Alice Notley — “To take part in you is to die is why one dies Have I said this before?”

71. Eileen Myles — “Well I’ll be a poet. What could be more foolish and obscure.”

72. Major Jackson — “When you have forgotten the meaningful bop”

73. Dawn Lundy Martin — “And Olivia, the mouth of his children from the mouth of my vagina.”

74. Kiki Petrosino — “We sense them shining in our net of nerves.”

75. Jennifer Moxley — “How lovely it is not to go. To suddenly take ill.”

76. Juliana Spahr — “There is space between the hands.”

77. Ada Limón — “just clouds—disorderly, and marvelous, and ours.”

78. Kevin Young — “I want to be doused in cheese and fried.”

79. Dodie Bellamy — “what is it have I seen it before will it hurt me or help me”

80. Juan Felipe Herrera — “Could this be yours? Could this item belong to you? Could this ticket be what you ordered, could it?”

81. Joy Harjo — “The woman inside the woman who was to dance naked in the bar of misfits blew deer magic.”

82. Saeed Jones — “In the dark, my mind’s night, I go back”

83. Sarah Arvio — “The new news is I love you my nudist”

84. Desiree Bailey — “how will I swim to you when the day is done?”

85. Rachael Briggs — “Jenny, sunny Jenny, beige-honey Jenny”

86. Rafael Campo — “We lie and hide from what the stethoscope will try to say”

87. Emily Kendal Frey — “How can you love people without them feeling accused?”

88. James Galvin — “Where is your grandmother’s wedding dress? What, gone?”

89. Douglas Kearney — “people in their house on TV are ghosts haunting a house haunting houses.”

90. Jamaal May — “how ruined the lovely children must be in your birdless city”

91. Claudia Rankine — “What did he just say? Did she really just say that?”

92. Donald Platt — “Someone jerks his strings. He can’t stop punching.”

93. Denise Duhamel — “it’s easy to feel unbeautiful when you have unmet desires”

94. Jane Wong — “A planet fell out of my mouth”

95. Derrick Austin — “Will you find me without the pink and blue hydrangeas?”

96. Dexter L. Booth — “The head goes down in defeat, but lower in prayer”

97. Catherine Bowman — “From two pieces of string and oil-fattened feathers he made a father.”

98. Jessamyn Birrer — “Abracadabra: The anus. The star at the base of the human balloon.”

99. Julie Carr– “Can you smell her from here?”

100. Mary Angela Douglas — “music remains in the sifted ruins”


The Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, MA, hosted part of the fourth annual Salem Poetry Festival

The first event we attended at the Salem Poetry Festival was at the House of the Seven Gables: “Song As Poem/Poem As Song.”

(We looked for the “Robert Burns, Poet Laureat, or Original Folksinger/Songwriter?” but it had moved to a new location, and Jackie, wearing her orange Salem Poetry Festival T-shirt, couldn’t find it for us, either.)

“Song as Poem/Poem as Song” had promise, but it was ruined by the presenters—who read prosey poems of their own which had no song-like qualities at all; these efforts were supposed to evoke a similar feeling to a few original songs sung by a fellow with a guitar, helped by a female vocalist.  But they did not. The poetry and song felt miles apart.  There was no reading of the song lyrics as poems—nor were poems sung as songs: it was simply a display of ego—a poet or two reading their own poems, a songwriter singing his songs, and the twain shall never meet.  The participants traded a few lame remarks: Poet: “I am jealous of the songwriter’s harmony!”  Songwriter: “To be naked with just words, now that’s what I admire!”   Perhaps the worst moment was when a black poet read an angry poem over the improvisational, sweetly jazzy playing of the event’s songwriter/guitarist, a stoic guy in a knitted cap:—the poem so didn’t fit the music, it was embarrassing.

A nerdy poet kept reading his own work as the audience wondered what it had to do with song.  The nerdy poet’s poetry had lines like, “I want to take you in my arms and call you an asshole” and “if it was a false god, it was a cool one.”  The nerdy poet read two poems on the warm, fuzzy feeling and comraderie you get after going to a live music concert; apparently the post-concert vibe “bled into the street” as he and his friends talked about it.  Wow.

The nerdy poet made a stab at theory: songs, he said, can repeat a beloved’s name with effectiveness, but a poem can’t.  Joan Hunter Dunn came to mind, but the nerdy poet was on a roll.  We let him be.

Later that evening, the Friday Headline Reading rolled out a local Dylan-esque musician (who was good, but unfortunately did an awful song called “Lloyd Schwartz”) then Princess Cheng, a young Asian slam poet, spouting hyperbole the way those slam poets do, before the Headline readers, Major Jackson, Maggie Dietz, and Robert Pinsky, did their thing.  Jackson dropped rap group names in his poetry, Dietz cute and domestic, gave us an elegy for her mother, a poem comforting demoted pluto, a found poem from her young son’s observations on God (“God’s a bird, I think”), and a poem called “Demolition Derby,” with the lines “oh, America!” and “mosh pit of metal.”

Pinksy, with his great, determined, exact, lisping voice, was a wind-storm of pedantry…every poem sailing along on a harmony of facts…history, etymology,  more history, more etymology…language compared to petroleum…cultural mixing the big theme…”I’m against purity,” Pinsky proudly announced.  We’re all blended!  No ethnic type!  Which is good, I suppose.  Pinksy, the anti-standup comic.  The weight of Pinsky’s pedantry slowly and irrevocably crushed the audience in its vise.  By 9 pm, everyone rushed out of the grand Peabody Essex museum atrium to breathe.  Mr. Pinsky, historian, wise man, poet-declaimer, had nearly killed them.

Looking for more punishment, we went back to the Festival on Saturday for a “State of Poetry” panel in a beautiful gallery in the Peabody Essex.  The beautiful art was silent, but we might as well say a few things about what went on.

The first panelist to speak, a Mass Cultural Council guy, condescendingly bored the audience with ‘how to submit your poems,’ etc.  Some even walked out at that point.  He warned about the big companies that accept any poem one sends them—so that one can then pay a fee to be in their big book of poems—but  he had nothing to say about all the other contests.  He really had nothing to say at all.  He had a big, deep, booming voice, though, and boomed for about 15 minutes.  The “state of poetry,” indeed.

The second guy was an outgoing New England PEN director, and he inspired the audience with: poetry is how one fights the ugly American politics of the corporations.  “I’m not read or reviewed by the magazines that count,” he said wistfully at the start, but once he launched into his anti-corporation paean, he had the audience in the palm of his hand.  One could tell this theme  makes poets very happy and comforts them.

We were confused by one thing: the panel made it clear that selling a lot of things was something only evil corporations did, and yet there was all this talk about how you had to get out there and sell as many of your poetry books as possible: traveling the country and reading from your book.  The confusing advice was: Hate corporations, but turn yourself into one.

The PEN guy, touting his optimistic “small-is-beautiful’ theme, also said a Knopf or an FSG “just prints your book” and doesn’t give you the attention you’ll get from a small press.  But is this really true? A large publisher “just prints your book?”   Aren’t the big guys interested in selling?   We have to conclude the PEN guy lets his emotions get in the way of his understanding

The third panelist, after reflecting on how “he couldn’t pay his rent” after graduating with an MFA, maintained the best route to poetic bliss was to form a group of friends based on similar ancestry.  He mentioned Cave Canem a lot, and was looking to do the same with his own particular group.   “Community is important.”  More important than the poetry?

The fourth panelist represented women and she talked about how she found a really nice hotel on the Oregon coast for a woman poets’ retreat.  A delightful idea.  The Oregon coast is lovely.

They even had time for questions.  “What about the eco-system of performance, as opposed to publishing?”  The panel was caught a little off guard by this question: well, what of performance?  The response was that publishing is performance.  The woman panelist said one of her poems was on a shower curtain.  The PEN guy pointed out that Leonard Cohen—who performed—was a poet.  PEN had just given him an award, in fact.  Performance, publishing, it’s all good.  The Mass Cultural Council guy said, “you must enjoy selling books and giving readings!”  Sell, sell, sell, said the anti-corporation panel.

Someone asked why every book of poems is “a project” now, with a theme, a topic, an angle, instead of simply a  ‘book of poems.’  Everyone agreed this was an American phenomenon and the reason for it was because publishers were looking to market books of poems the way they market other genres, like fiction.  Those damn corporations, again?  A book entitled “Poems” doesn’t sell.   The phrase “culture of the poetry contest” arose as a way to explain why every poetry book has to have a theme.

But on reflection, what does a book’s theme have to do with contests?  What in the world has theme to do with it, really?

Is a “theme” the last refuge of the fool?  It isn’t exactly like the pugnacious fellow who gruffly asks, “What’s your (selling) point?” (what’s your theme?) when there may be many valid points at play, each full of nuance. The issue is two-fold: 1) the inability to judge poems as poems without a “theme” to latch onto.  And 2) the habit of fitting every product with a theme, which, over time, needs to become narrower, until we find the example of the fellow with the Ph.D. who has no general knowledge of anything.

Perhaps the only book of poems one should trust is the one entitled, simply, “Poems.”

But we stray from our point.

(to be continued)

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